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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: The Learning Organization, Volume 18, Issue 4
In last issue’s editorial I flagged the idea that The Learning Organization (TLO) aims to position itself as an international journal of critical studies in organizational learning. I propose that contemporary critical approaches ought, at minimum, encompass three dimensions; power and politics, research methods, and social media. My aim in this editorial is to begin to outline these areas. I am pleased to introduce the paper by Laurie Field in particular as he, in what will hopefully be the first in a long line of future authors, begins to flesh out at a more experiential level, issues of organizational power and politics. Suffice therefore some pointers.
I believe we must be honest and recognize that the thinking around “Learning Organization” (LO), that emerges from more conventional quarters, is largely locked into a concept of learning organization whose conservative explanations and projected representations are deeply flawed, in so much as they refuse to acknowledge the everyday realities of organizational politics and power arrangements (Grieves, 2008). I need only point here to a refreshing set of papers provided by my editorial predecessors in TLO Volume 15, Issue 6 (2008) to make the case for encouraging the publication of a wider, more critically infused repertoire of papers. It is therefore increasingly difficult to entertain analyses of learning organizational theory and practice that ignore, when relevant, organizational politics and power arrangements (Fleming and Spicer, 2007) and the increasing push for a more participatory organizational ethos (Kaiser et al., 2009), which are, to borrow from Sartre, no more than mysteries in broad daylight. Accordingly TLO seeks accounts of good theoretically informed, critical thinking and practice from around the globe.
However, TLO will not only promote conceptual and research papers that look at organizational learning with a more critical eye. Another indicator of traditional, rather than innovative thinking, is found in the realm of research practices. An overview of TLO papers quickly establishes the preponderance of good but conventional quantitative and qualitative approaches. Statistical analyses and the standard repertoire of qualitative methods predominate. A high level of methodological professionalism is evident. Yet it also becomes clear that while academic researchers are good at communicating with their disciplinary peers, this is not always so when writing for a much wider audience. Hence, while analyses are thorough and rigorous, quantitative studies tend to be written up in ways often difficult to comprehend by “ordinary” practitioners, while many readers with a more quantitative mindset wonder about the apparent lack of methodological transparency and precision in qualitative studies. While the future provision of better in-house guidance for the writing up of traditional research methods is necessary, it is not sufficient. It is time for TLO to encourage the use of a broader range of more contemporary organizational research practices. Critical theoretical, cultural theory, post-modern discourse analysis, and feminist approaches, for example, spring readily to mind (see for instance Oswick, 2011; Grant et al., 2011; Clegg and Hardy, 2005). I look forward, with I’m sure many of TLO’s readership, to papers that cast a new light on organizational research and provide us with wider organizational perspectives hitherto not as common in TLO.
Last, but not least, TLO also aims to put issues around organizational learning in the participatory age of social media firmly on its agenda. We wish to promote the publication of papers that provide solid critiques of theory and practice that resonate with the real-life needs of organizational practitioners and researchers in the neo-millennial age of social media (see for example Kaiser et al., 2009; Kosonen and Kianto, 2009). On this point I urge you to watch for a forthcoming paper by Dimitris Bibikas entitled “The unbearable lightness of social software at work”.
In the end, the point of a more critical, more methodological diverse, and social media focused approach is for TLO to gain a reputation as a leading edge international journal in which organizational practitioner and academic researcher communities engage in and promote cutting edge praxis. By this I also propose that such a praxis be not just committed to the managerial imperative of organizational productivity but equally so to the creation of more fulfilling and equitable work environments for all who make them function. It also appears that few, if any journals of adult learning, workplace learning and management have a real and sustained focus on these issues. Such a perspective – and it is a perspective we intend to pursue enthusiastically - is all the more pertinent in the neo-millennial age of social media and its participative ethos that challenges the epistemic foundations of our conventional industrial age knowledge practices (Eijkman, 2010). The evidence is currently before our very eyes, as we receive on our smartphones live reports of the toppling of unpopular governments in the Middle East.
In this issue
It is with great pleasure therefore that I welcome the most recent of hopefully many subsequent papers that explore issues of organizational power and politics.
This paper by Laurie Field highlights a more critical theoretical stance, which acknowledges that politics and power arrangements are fundamental features of all forms of organizational life (Pfeffer, 1992). Political power arrangements have both positive as well as negative dimensions as they can be sources of empowerment as well as of resistance and conflict (Hardy and Leiba-O’Sullivan, 1998). At the same time analyses of organizational power and politics may vary considerably, depending on their ideological/theoretical point of departure (Clegg, 1990; Clegg et al., 2006).
Laurie Field’s paper “Exploring the political underbelly of organizational learning: learning during pay and performance management change” analyses organizational learning in politically charged employee relations contexts in two Australian companies. Laurie argues that despite a decade or more of research on the political dimensions of organizational learning, the focus has largely been on political concomitants of learning associated with mainstream activities. On the other hand, his paper is one of relatively few empirical studies that has considered organizational learning in politically charged employee relations contexts, and more specifically in the context of pay and performance management.
In “The learning conference: knowledge creation through participation and publication”, Ina Louw and Ortrun Zuber-Skerritt offer guidelines on how a supportive research culture enables novice researchers especially to bring their research and ideas beyond conference presentation into published form. They show how participation in an action research/learning conference can promote collaboration, critical thinking and reflection within action research/learning cycles to progress research from conference presentation to journal article.
Roberto Grandinetti, in his paper “Local/global cognitive interfaces within industrial districts. An Italian case study” analyses the ways in which local industrial centers that provide knowledge-intensive business services (KIBS), in this case in North-Eastern Italy, are able to not just survive but thrive in a global economy. He argues that with the advance of globalization the survival of industrial districts depends increasingly on their ability to connect to the cognitive circuits of the global economy. His paper focuses on a specific category of local/global cognitive interfaces, namely the institutions that provide knowledge-intensive business services (KIBS). Given that his purpose is to explain how institutional KIBS play this role his paper develops a detailed analysis of the case of such an institution in North-East Italy. Based on this case study, he proposes a model of how knowledge-intensive business services (KIBS), can play an important role in supporting the reproduction and evolution of industrial districts in the present competitive global scenario.
Jitesh Thakkar, Arun Kanda, S.G. Deshmukh focus on the “Mapping of supply chain learning: a framework for SMEs”. While staying within more traditional territory, Jitesh and his colleagues provide a framework that has the potential to assist SME managers to identify weak areas in their supply chain and adopt learning and knowledge management perspectives to improve selected dimensions such as customer responsiveness, flexibility, inventory management and lead time issues through better supply chain planning, coordination and information sharing.
In their paper “An ability-based view of the organization: strategic resource and contingency domains” Farley Nobre and David Walker introduce a contingency-based view of organizational cognition. Their conclusions reinforce the thesis that for individuals, groups and organizations cognition is the core ability, which supports other complementary abilities such as intelligence, autonomy, learning, and knowledge management. They argue that all together, these abilities not only act as sources that reduce environmental uncertainty but they also nourish the development of an organization’s core competencies and competitive advantage. They stress that the uniqueness and distinction of their research rests on their efforts to explain the strategic dynamic behavior of organizations, which, in the face of having to manage high levels of environmental uncertainty, pursue high levels of cognition to nourish the development of core competencies and to sustain their competitive advantage.
Henk EijkmanEditor, TLO
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